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Portland Trail Blazers: Free Agent Center Possibilities

We highlight two veteran centers who might sign with the Portland Trail Blazers for the mid-level exception. Which do you want more, offense or defense, youth or reliability, ?


The Mailbag covers a couple of centers today...

Dear Dave,

Say the Blazers re-sign Mo Williams with the Bird Exception, and they've got the MLE to lure a veteran big for the rotation:

1) Do you think the Blazers could get Spencer Hawes for $5.3 million?

2) What do you think would be better for the second unit: The spacing you'd get with "Stretch 5" Hawes, or the rim protection and rebounding you'd get from a healthy Emeka Okafor?

Eric from Hawaii

Thanks for the question, Eric. My mom lived on Maui for several years and I had a chance to visit twice. It's an unforgettable place with a complex and interesting history. Even though you're on a different island, just getting your question stirred up a ton of memories for of the hidden benefits of the Mailbag, I suppose!

I also love your question because it's simple but we could jaw all day about it...the perfect storm of Mailbaggery. So let's get to it.

Spencer Hawes is 26 years old coming off a $6.5 million salary. Measuring per-minute (when necessary) he's put up career numbers in points, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, fouls committed, true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, defensive rebounds, defensive rebounding percentage, and win shares. Compared to his past numbers he's not too shabby on rebounding or assists either. None of that adds up to a guy looking to take a pay cut. The saving factors here are two: he hasn't been that special in the aggregate and he's in limbo right now, having been traded from an aimless Philadelphia team to a mostly-aimless Cleveland franchise. If he gets lost in this summer's market too--or if he wants to play for a team on the rise and the Blazers make a strong pitch--there's a chance he could be had for the MLE or even less.

Emeka Okafor is 31, heading for 32 when the season starts, and made $14.5 million last season. Dipping to MLE level would be a radical pay cut. But even if Okafor deserved a mid-eight-digit salary (subject to discussion) he's played only one healthy season in the past three. New Orleans moved him to make room for Anthony Davis. Washington wrung one good season out of him before dropping him off to Phoenix, who acquired him for cap relief. His salary expectations should moderate accordingly. But if he's looking to join a winner for less money, teams higher up the totem pole than the Blazers would pursue him. Portland wouldn't be the toughest sell but it's not the most obvious either.

But let's assume for the sake of argument that either player would be available for Portland's mid-level-exception this summer. The question of relative value is interesting.

Both Okafor and Hawes would come off the bench behind Robin Lopez. Both would fill serious needs for the Blazers, albeit different ones. Either would be a fine signing for that amount of money.

Okafor is older and his health remains a concern. He'd be a short-term replacement, not a stalwart. But he'd also fit well with the system the Blazers already have in place. Like Lopez he prefers to operate in the paint on both ends of the floor. He'd get just as much real estate and opportunity as Lopez does. His offensive rebounding and defensive savvy would be just as welcome. He wouldn't be pressured to score any more than Robin is, which is good because his offense tanked big-time after he was traded from the Hornets. Then again, Portland's offensive requirements at center are so paste-simple that Okafor might get rejuvenated in Terry Stotts' system. Okafor is a fantastic teammate as well, a solid veteran addition with no hint of chemistry issues.

Hawes is younger and could be a long-term investment. He'd be the polar opposite of Lopez off the bench, shooting threes and roaming the floor. He can still rebound, though his jumper has diminished his offensive rebounding production lately. On the defensive glass he's as solid as anybody. His individual defensive chops don't match Okafor's but he's not a liability. He has the potential to score more, and in more ways, than either Lopez or Okafor. But he's not the same kind of anchor that they are. He's not as aggressive, athletic, reliable. But he is healthy. He's registered only one season of fewer than 70 games in his career.

I have to tell you, narrowing down the choice to these two makes the decision tough. I think I'd go with Hawes just because of the age and health factors, but it'd be hard to turn down Okafor if you knew he'd stay healthy. It'd be like doubling down on Lopez...not a bad thing from Portland's point of view.

I'm going to throw this one to Blazer's Edge readers, though. Let's assume that either of these centers could be had for the MLE this summer and you had reasonable assurance that Okafor had recovered from injury and was ready to move forward. Would you prefer him or Hawes? Vote below and let us know your reasoning in the comment section.

Also keep those Mailbag questions coming to and follow on Twitter @DaveDeckard. You can get updated on every post site-wide by any author @Blazersedge as well!

--Dave / @DaveDeckard